Escalating child marriage and early pregnancy in Nepal

Escalating child marriage and early pregnancy in Nepal
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Child marriage constitutes a violation of international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights 1996 and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979. (Prakash Shahi, 2019) Child marriage has been prohibited in Nepal since 1963. The current law states that the minimum marriage age 20 years for both men and women without parental consent and 18 years with parental consent for women. (Prakash Shahi, 2019) Even though child marriage is illegal in Nepal, the county has the third-highest rate of child marriages in Asia, after India and Bangladesh. 

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The causes of child marriage

Child marriage has several causes: social, cultural, religious, political, demographic, and economic. Girls married under the age of 18 often leads to early motherhood, which affects their right to education and deprives them of their fundamental human rights. (Prakash Shahi, 2019)

Three major forces driving child marriages: poverty, the need to reinforce social ties and the belief that those social ties offer protection. Girls are considered an economic burden to their families and are often viewed as property.  In the past, it was believed that marrying daughters young should protect them from rape, premarital sexual activity, unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV and AIDS.     

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Child marriage in the ethnic communities

Each ethnic group has different beliefs about the importance of early marriage. Majhi (fisherman) and Danuwar communities insist on the early marriage of their daughters because of the necessity of death rituals that demand the presence of married daughters who need to present the Holy Spirit with a pot of homemade whiskey and a chicken for the souls. (Prakash Shahi, 2019)Various ethnicities in the far West believe that girls need to get married before they attain puberty to be socially accepted. Minorities and ethnic groups are more susceptible to child marriage than the socially and economically advantaged majorities. Therefore, ethnic standards and their economic status in society have resulted in the high prevalence of child marriage among minorities. (Prakash Shahi, 2019)

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Effects of child marriage and early pregnancy

Due to the physical immaturity of the girls who get married at an early age, there can be serious health consequences for them and the children they give birth to. Along with health problems, marriage has significant implications for the girl's educational status.  (Prakash Shahi, 2019) 

Child marriage prevents them from continuing their education and focs more on the need to earn a living and do household chores. (Prakash Shahi, 2019) Child brides are at risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation which often results in separation from family, friends, and society. Lack of freedom to participate in the community can bring major mental and physical problems to young girls.  (Prakash Shahi, 2019) 

Nepalese law and the role of the state

As mentioned previously, child marriages have been prohibited since 1963. (Kathayat, 2021) Article 70(1)(d) of the Civil Code states that the current legal age for marriage is 20. Moreover, Article 73(1)(a) further gives the possibility to get a marriage voided if the minimum age requirement is not met. Thus, at least in theory, child marriages are voidable if one of the parties is willing to do so unless pregnancy occurs — according to Article 74(1). If a woman gives birth after conceiving from a man, a marriage between them is deemed to be legal.

In addition, the Nepalese Criminal Code prescribes strict sanctions for committing the offence of child marriage — namely, up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to 30 000 rupees (approximately 210 euros), as stated in Article 173(3). This law punishes both the bride and the groom, which further victimize children and does not contribute to the full prevention of child marriages.

Neither the legal prohibition nor the severe penalties have prevented child marriages from occurring. The authorities' actions merely prevent such offences or execute the prescribed punishments. (HRW, 2016)  Many NGOs have proved to be more active in this regard with campaigns, such as 'It takes Nepal to end child marriage' launched by the World Vision International Nepal, the National Youth Council and Association of Community Ra

The  significance of external pressure     

The Nepalese government has taken on the duty to end child marriages twice already — the first time during the 2014 international 'Girl Summit' in London. The second time during the 2016 national 'Girl Summit' in Kathmandu. Currently, the Nepalese government's goal is to end child marriages by 2030 in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate 'all harmful practices, such as early child and forced marriages.' (HRW, 2016) Increasing the girls' access to education and healthcare are some of the steps taken, but their realization holds still due to the lack of a special system to check school attendance. (HRW, 2016)

On the international level, child marriages are outlawed. They violate  related rights, such as the right to life, the right to equality on the grounds of sex and age, the right to marry and found a family, the right to education and development, as well as the right to the highest attainable standard of health. (UNICEF, 2007) These rights are all protected in several legal instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages.

The current situation

Recently, the Nepalese government has initiated 'bank account of daughters, for secured life' and 'daughters and daughter-in-law's scholarship' programs which consist of depositing money in the bank accounts of girls if they do not get married before the age of 20. (Kathayat, 2021) As this would increase the economic independence of girls, it would reduce the number of child marriages in the future. (Kathayat, 2021)

So far, neither national nor international standards have helped to entirely eradicate child marriages in Nepal, which means that more efficient measures addressing the root causes are required. These include eradicating societal stigmas, empowering and educating girls, and increasing their economic opportunities and fighting poverty. (ICRW, 2011) Raising awareness of the issue and the new initiatives that the government has undertaken would make a significant change.


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Mahato, S. K. (2016). Causes and Consequences of Child Marriage: A. International Journal Of Scientific & Engineering Research,, 698-702.

Nepal, P. (2021). Child Marriage In Nepal Research Report . Kathmandu, Nepal: Plan Nepal.

Prakash Shahi, P. D. (2019). Child Marriage: Knowledge, practice and its attributed consequences among early married women in Jumla, Nepal . ASIAN PACIFIC JOURNAL OF HEALTH SCIENCES, 140-148.

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The Muluki Civil (Code) Act, 2074 (2017) (Nepal)

The Muluki Penal (Code) Act, 2074 (2017) (Nepal)